No More Command Line

October 28, 2009

With all the talk of the Windows 7 release, much publicity has fallen on Linux, and in particular Karmic Koala, which is being released not long after Redmond’s stuff. Have a look at Rory Cellan Jones article on the BBC: 24 hours with Ubuntu.

The comments section is pretty neutral, but both the for and against Linux arguments keep bringing up the command line again and again. And it’s not those against Linux I’m having a rant to, but those FOR Linux.

I’m as strong a Linux advocate as my whiney liberal lefty live-and-let-live ethic permits. But as a community we should relegate the command line to LUG discussions and bragging contests (“You don’t watch YouTube via the command line? Chicken!”).

The command line is not needed any more.

Let me say that again: the command line is not needed any more. You should judge your geekism on which side of that line you come down on.

Now I’ve mercilessly baited you in, allow me to elaborate.

You never need to use the command line. Never need to. You can get by without it. But what it is is a tool. A very very powerful tool. Then again so is a JCB, and so is Microsoft Word.

My advice: if you get into a discussion with a mildly interested person about how difficult they worry Linux might be, and that discussion centres on the need for the command line, try this comparison:

If you used WordPad to write all your reports, you’d be fine with different sized fonts, centring text, large and small fonts, and underlining. But you’ve heard of this Microsoft Word which your geeky friends are talking about.

They say its got more features, looks better and you can do all sorts of crazy stuff. But you’re a bit scared: Mail Merge? Templates and Styles? Footnotes? Comic Sans?

But of course you explain to your friend that he doesn’t need to use all that stuff – it’s just there in case he decides to branch out, or put a bit more pizzazz in his reports.

In Linux the command line is a powerful bonus feature, not a troll lurking in the background which you must pay bags of gold to fix your breakages. You’ll never need to look at that troll, but it’s useful for when things go wrong. But in Linux, when do things go that wrong?

If in Windows you couldn’t get a USB stick to work, or you couldn’t install some software, or some rogue program was hogging all your resources so you couldn’t even bring up the Task Manager, what would you do? Probably end up re-installing.

In Linux, you can take a sneak peek behind the scenes if you have the command line skills. But if not, you can still re-install!

Just because there’s a clever tool to use, doesn’t mean you have to use it.